Donna Vekic reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time since 2019 on Monday at the Australian Open, but the 26-year-old said she was on the verge of retiring after struggling for form and fitness following knee surgery two years ago.
Vekic went under the knife after the 2021 Australian Open and said she was in a constant battle to regain her old level after being sidelined with knee issues for months at a time.
The Croatian had not moved past the second round of a Grand Slam since the surgery and said that after a first-round exit at the U.S. Open she had given herself time till Wimbledon to rediscover the form that had helped her break into the top 20.
“I said twice I’m going to quit tennis. But after saying that, one, I won Courmayeur, then I played really well in San Diego,” Vekic told reporters.
“You have doubts, especially because I wasn’t really fit. I was so far from moving the way I was before. I didn’t trust my knee; I didn’t trust my abilities.
“Then my fitness was improving, but it wasn’t coming together on the match court. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself .... It was too tough for me mentally to be on this average level because I know what I was capable of before.”
Vekic said she regained confidence after her run in San Diego where she beat several top seeds before losing to world number one Iga Swiatek in the final.
She said changing her mindset and not prioritising tennis had helped her reach the quarterfinals in Melbourne after she needed to “cry my eyes out” during a rain break in the first round to release a little bit of pressure.
“It’s my 11th Australian Open .... I’m still only 26 (but) I don’t feel 26 when I wake up in the morning and take my first couple of steps,” she added.
“I put so much pressure on myself in the first round here that when I stepped on the court I was completely frozen.
“I won the first set, but if you asked me my name, I would have to look up on the scoreboard to check what’s my name. I was completely blocked out there.”